Saturday, December 19, 2009

Neo-Formalists and Confused Lyricists

"if we are to expect other nations to take an interest in the poetry produced in Canada, the aesthetic stances of our nation’s critics need to be pushed aside and a more objective approach that takes into consideration a poet’s intentions needs to be adopted."(Banks)

That's right. Those dolts outside our own borders need to have their hands held before they can appreciate good or great poetry. Condescension hidden behind "sensitive guidance".

Banks, of course, is too busy drifting mist into the readers' eyes to relate the critical history of CanPo, and how it gets written and disseminated in the first place. Until he quits being a hypocritical cheerleader for the "lyric" (hidebound, tribal tic-scratcher!) and criticizes (which is to say, examines with proportion, noting successes and failures) the many volumes in front of him, his vague pronouncements and generality-laden denouncements hold as much weight as a flea's fart. Of course, before anti-Monsignor Wells, myself, and others (Banks typically won't name names beyond this point) came along less than a decade ago, Canada's status as an international poetry backwater was well established. Are we to blame for that, too? Or perhaps the gulf can be explained by the promoted poetry itself, and by the ecstatic blurbs of condescending explanation substituting for serious analysis. Just, you know, my own take on it. It's true, after all, because this is what I intend to say! Oh, non sequitur of joy! Tautology of smugness!

"To my mind, we have far too many critics dismissing books under review based not on the poetry’s substance but on the poet’s style."(Banks)

Then you haven't been paying attention, which is par for the course. I've repeatedly stated otherwise, but you're too busy decorating your hobby horse to actually listen with discernment instead of tribal stance and ideological blinkers.

Substance is very important in a book of poetry. But substance without aesthetic joy, and just as importantly and to the point, without aesthetic wedding, is journalism, or worse, message-mongering. Simplistic, arrogant, unmusical ..... in other words, non-poetry.

Got a "message"? Bury it. Read Shelley's "Ozymandias". Stevens' "Anecdote Of The Jar". Vallejo's "The Spider". Layton's "Boys Bathing". Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop For Death". More critics got those poems wrong -- on substance -- back in the day, but so what? Eventually, if the music is joyful, and the meaning is teasing, people get it, or get a part of it (which is often good enough). Even those maroons living across the Atlantic who can't figure out what all the fuss is about if chancing upon Roy Miki's "make it new". (But Miki's not a lyric poet, so perhaps Banks agrees with me, here? I don't recall a postmodernist rave yet at his blog.)

Style and substance can't be separated. Banks teaches poetry?

"Zachariah Wells, a critic who puts the Neo in New Formalism, and several of his more ardent supporters"(Banks)

If one label fails to stick, try another one. Has Banks considered that poets can write in, and critics applaud, traditional forms without being "neo-formalists"? And that a single book of poetry can contain the strictest of metrical patterns, the most widely shunning of the same, and various fascinating meetings between both poles, and still be praised by myself?

To be absurdly obvious (though, apparently, needfully so), one can prefer poetry in metre, and/or in rhyme, strong rhythms, and musical and metaphorical ordering, and still be sympathetic if the work is good to poets who write in free verse (however you see that problematic term). Gee, kinda like Wells and myself and other unnamed boogey(wo?)men. But don't let facts -- on record -- stand in the way of a good conspiracy.

"followed hard on that initial post of mine with a willful misreading of the word “intention” suggesting I wanted critics to somehow divine a poet’s thoughts which they see as being divorced from the actual poetry."(Banks)

No. Again, you misunderstand. You take a sentence I (or Wells) have said , sever it out of context with the larger argument, and construct your rebuttal based on a faulty premise.

I said, and will patiently say again, that it doesn't matter what the poet's intention was if:

1) it's not transmitted, either clearly or (the same thing) aesthetically of a piece with the idea;

2) the intention/meaning is, itself, shallow or wrong or redundant;

3) it's so closed to further possibilities that the poet can see no future refinements or breakthroughs when he/she or a critic encounters it.

“When we appreciate style as the subtle medium of sense, we can see how the way works are written also discloses the meanings these works of art intend. Meaning in poetry is imbedded in the saying."(Kinzie)

I've said as much. What's the problem?

"Such meaning in poetry does not just happen: It is the product of a trained writer’s strength, all of which in one way or another is formed and fueled by intention. In art, it is only by intending a saying, with all of its effects of meaning, that a work in words can become a coherent piece of literature. Similarly, it is only by imagining how artistic intention grows through the work that a reader can get inside it” (34)."(Kinzie)

Again, no quarrels. I'm scratching my head (no fleas). This is only contentious, vis-a-vis my own critical ideas, if one enshrines "intention", wrenches it out of its suggestive elbowing with all sorts of poetic tropes, syntax, sound patterning.

Between an author's intention and the author's realization is often a sad divide. That the peacock poet accepts the former as the initial spur and last stop in worthy poetic creation is bizarre.

As to the rest of Banks' "argument", again, its church-related broad-brush finger wagging misses the boat by an ocean or two.

By the way, I believe the CNQ review challenge is still a go. Silence on the matter is puzzling. After all, what an opportunity for a corrective to the tribal elite!

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